Customers today are tough to please and even tougher to retain. While they keep seeking digital technologies and devices at all stages of their retail journey, they want to hold on cozily to the comfort and familiarity of neighbourhood stores. The key to solving this new-age retail puzzle lies in adopting the omnichannel strategy that combines the advantages of bricks-and-mortar stores with the convenience of online shopping. It creates a wholesome retail experience by ensuring that when customers switch from one channel to the other, the context and history with the brand make a switch, too.
By opening up new avenues of seamless engagement with customers, omnichannel is changing the face of marketing as we know it. According to a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, almost 73% of consumers say they are omnichannel shoppers, while 20% are online-only shoppers and 7% are store-only shoppers. These numbers may not be definitive, but surely give a peek into the future of where omnichannel retail will be, driven by technology and digital solutions.
Evolution of omnichannel
The genesis of omnichannel can be traced to circa 2010 when the term was used to describe a shopping experience that extends beyond multi-channel retailing. In the last eight years, omnichannel has grown beyond just an offshoot of multichannel retail and has gained traction in many industries. No longer just a buzzword, omnichannel is considered an indispensable part of any marketer’s retail strategy.
The growth of the omnichannel journey runs parallel with the phenomenal growth of e-commerce and digital technology across the globe. With 60 million online shoppers, the e-commerce wave in India has washed over the entire nation. Investment bank Morgan Stanley estimates that growing at a compound annual growth rate of 30 per cent, the value of the Indian e-commerce market will reach a staggering $200 billion by 2026.
The e-commerce story has well and truly begun in India and the customer expects more than just multiple channels as part of the omnichannel experience. It’s imperative that every channel must remain on a par with each other in delivering a consistent and integrated message. And omnichannel strategy is ensuring that your company speaks to the customer in one voice across all retail channels.
Omnichannel strategies adopted by marketers
Mapping the customer’s retail journey and decision-making process is the first step to developing an omnichannel strategy. As a marketer, you must ask yourself a few simple but significant questions: Where and when does the consumer shop, and how are these purchases made, such as via smartphone, tablet or direct cash payment at the store, etc? These insights, which will help you understand customer preferences and habits, will become the foundation of your omnichannel strategy.
Here’s a look at some unique strategies that define today’s omnichannel experience:
1. Integrating offline with online: Physical stores are being turned into fulfilment centers to aid a retail chain’s online counterpart. Consumers can avail of services like ‘click and collect’ that allow them to make an online purchase and collect the product later from a neighborhood store. Facilitating in-store return for online purchases also gives customers the comfort and flexibility to straddle different retail platforms.
2. Optimising social media: No brand can ignore the power that social media wields over young consumers. With over a billion mobile connections and 196 million social media users, India is at the heart of this revolution. Given this scenario, marketers are keen on building their brand through customer discussions and recommendations on social media platforms. At the same time, in-store experiences are also being integrated with social media through displays that allow customers to read product reviews from social media platforms.
3. Efficient customer support: With an omnichannel customer support, companies provide integrated customer service to retail brands. All communication platforms such as FAQs, SMS and chat options are blended seamlessly to provide a glitch-free conversation with customers. Result: they feel valued and connected with your brand and your agents gain a single view of customers, understanding their requirements better.
4. Incorporating customer reviews: Much like social media, reviews play an important role in influencing customers. A good or bad review can influence a shopping decision much more than any advertisement. Companies are providing reviews and product guides to customers while they shop to help them make informed purchase decisions.
5. Using apps to personalise shopping: Marketers are heavily investing in technology that can help them decipher and activate data from various sources. Retail brands are introducing apps that help their employees remember customer preferences. On the other hand, apps are also being used to disseminate information about in-store sales and events to customers.
What lies ahead
The right omnichannel strategy can transform your business through greater customer engagement and increased brand visibility. In a market like India, where every region is unique and requires tailor-made customisations, the integration of several messaging platforms to create a unified message may seem daunting but is a journey worth taking. For omnichannel marketing to deliver optimum results, a concerted and coordinated effort across multiple functions such as marketing, communications, public relations and customer service is imperative. Companies must work towards bridging internal silos to ensure consistent communication across channels.
To reiterate, companies must keep an eye out for and invest in technology that allows seamless movement and unified communication across channels. Technology will also help brands to understand their target audience and buying behaviour by decoding data collected from various sources. As technology becomes second nature to Indian consumers today, this game changer will also be a decisive factor for the growth and success of any omnichannel strategy.
KT Prasad is country sales director at Zendesk, India, a SaaS (software as a service) company. Views are personal.